Here at Taricaya, one of the projects we have is working with different butterfly species and monitering their populations and where they eat and sleep and live. Gigo, the butterfly guy will go out and collect catepillars or or cocoons or we get to go stampeding through the jungle, nets in toe, in a normally pointless chase. If successful, we bring the different species back to Taricaya and we put them in an enclosure where we can observe them pass through all their stages of life. Watching the transformation has been so beautiful and it got me to thinking about the different stages I´ve gone through in my life and different stages I´ve gone through just since my last blog post.
So the process starts out with good ol´Heather Dappen, an innocent gringa, naive to the horrors and terrors of the world. Ha! Anyways, since I´ve been here, I´ve pretty much been a blank canvas and taking everything in with wide eyes and mouth aghast. Eager to shrug off this sheltered image, I listen to what the staff has to say like it´s a message from the Heavens. One evening after dinner, Gigo and the other staff members started calling all the volunteers together. They were extremely exuberant because they had just received a large batch of this magic fruit called Wicho. It´s amazing because if you mix it in alcohol and then rub it on your skin, it keeps the mosquitos and other biting bugs off for days! Gigo had been talking about Wicho ever since I got here and selling it like an infomercial. He showed us his legs and how he had so few bites and he told us this fruit was life changing and that he couldn´t live without it. We were sold. I mean who wants to be itching all the time and turning the bites into festering, oozing scabs? With this in mind, we happily accepted Gigo´s generosity and proceeded to smear the fruit over every visible patch of our skin.... and some parts that aren´t visible... ha! It turned into a giant party and there was music and people going about rubbing the fruit on others in cool designs. It was like a tribal ritual, like we were getting ready for an Amazonian war.
But then, I started being overwhelmed by the generosity. All the staff members were like, here, let me paint it on your arms, here, have some more, here, let me paint it on your face! What was this?? I mean don´t get me wrong, people are nice here, but NEVER like this. It´s usually every man for yourself here. They were TOO nice... Stepford Wives status. But only after having the fruit applied to my whole body did I realize that NONE of the staff had been applying this miracle fruit. I watched a little more and the sweet smell of the fruit turned a little fishy....
And sure enough, I transformed into my second form: A SMURF!!! haha! With every hour, my skin got bluer and bluer. It was like they had written on us with magic marker. Except a magic marker that stays on for two weeks. Yes, sadly that is correct, two looooong weeks. In a last effort to redeem my pride, I went back to the bungalow to try to scrub it off. But, in true Taricaya fashion, the water pump was broken and I couldn´t even wash my hands of this terrible fruit. They have corrupted my innocent mind- I have concluded that they broke the water pump on purpose that night in a plot to keep us blue as long as possible! Dang them!!! Dang them all to heckkkk hahaha
In the morning, I was awakened by the screaming laughter of the volunteers. I layed in my bed and chuckled to myself as I heard the others discovering their blue. Im not going to lie, I was happy to know I wasn´t the only volunteer who had been duped. At breakfast we all compared our smurfness. Even though our pride was a little wounded, we couldn´t help but laughing at all the unibrows, wrinkles, zebra stripes, smilie faces and swirlies all over our bodies! And we also couldn´t help but admitting how that was THE BEST PRACTICAL JOKE EVER!!! They had us so fooled, it was insane. I´ve never seen the staff so pleased with themselves haha. Though they better tred carefully because I must say.... revenge is going to be sweet.... ;) muhahahhahah!!
A few days later, I underwent the next step in my transformation. We went fishing and every inch of my body that had been covered in blue, was replaced with brown. What started out as a primitive fishing trip turned into an all out mud war! From smurf I had become PIGG!!!!
It all began when Vicki wasn´t having any luck fishing so she started walking up stream to find a better spot. I took my eyes off her for a minute and when I looked back she was gone. I looked closer and I saw her torso wiggling at the level of some logs. She had been consumed by the mud and couldn´t get out!! I watched her wiggle around helplessly for probably 10 minutes, me cracking up the whole time, and Vicki getting more and more frustrated I´m sure. When she was finally able to free herself and her 100 dollar shoes, she emmerged completely covered in mud. The rest of us were intrigued and decided to follow suit. We smeared mud all over ourselves and through mud at will. The more we rolled around and played, the deeper the mud got. In the end, the only way I could get back to the boat was by squirming about like some walrus or something. I now understand the phrase: as happy as a pig in mud! I was completely content, and that night, tired as a dog, I passed out :)
Another transformation I´ve been going through is becoming an AMAZON WOMAN!!! RARRR hear me roar!! The other day, I got to go out trail clearing with a local farmer/badass named Percy. He´s lived in this area his whole life and knows everything there is to know about the jungle. Rumor has it that he was once a lumberjack and he would survive for weeks at a time solely off the jungle. That´s pretty intense seeing that every other fruit, animal, or tree is out to kill you with its poisons. Anyways, in between macheting, he would give us little commentaries about the jungle. He happily taught us about many different plants and insects. He even showed us this one termite that was like an antibiotic similar to penicillin. And low and behold, I ATE IT!!! Hahaha only in the Amazon right? :) He also let me use the chainsaw :) That was fun.
While I am transforming into all these different Heather sub-species down here, in the end, I always come back to myself. Just me:) Just when I think I´m getting a little better at Spanish, I´ll say something completely idiotic to make me realize even more that Spanish is NOT my native language. Or just as I think I´m getting better with handling the baby monkeys, they´ll poop on me and put me in my place. Or just as I think I´m becoming independent, I get a random feeling of nostalgia for home to remind me of my family and where I come from. I´m having a blast down here but I want you to know that I love you guys! I also want you to know that when I´m not scrubbing monkey poo off my pants or doing other random activities, you´re on my mind. Thanks for being a part of me no matter who I am or who I become :)